Opinion: Too much religion in chapel is uncomfortable

By: Cassie Follman
Opinion Page Editor

I am an Atheist.

I do not believe in any higher power or associate myself with organized religion; however, this does not mean that I hate religion or judge those who recognize themselves as a member of a religious group. This year, Peddie welcomed a new chaplain, Rev. Johan Johnson, Ph.D., into its community and the change in chapel structure was dramatic. While change is an important and unavoidable aspect of any community in order for it to continue to grow and prosper, the differences in chapel have produced a number of controversial opinions.

Many students – myself included – have said that they believe Peddie is nondenominational. The exact definition of denominational is founded, sponsored, or controlled by a particular religious denomination or sect. Peddie was originally founded by Baptists, but the school transitioned to recognize all religions and became nondenominational decades ago. While I still stand by my opinion that some of the changes in chapel make me feel uncomfortable and sympathize with those who share my view, it is unfair to say that Peddie is no longer nondenominational because there is a higher religious tone in chapel than was seen in previous years.

On the first day of chapel, I was interested to see how the new chaplain would approach chapel. Of course, I expected some differences in the structure, but I did not expect a reading from the Bible or prayer. When that first chapel ended, I was extremely confused. How could chapel be so different? I asked myself.

Eventually I came to realize that it was not that I was mad that Rev. Johnson had taken a new direction in chapel, but rather how it directly affected me. Chapel had always been a place where I heard interesting and respectful speeches from teachers, guest speakers, and my fellow classmates. Even though I do not have any religious beliefs, I still enjoyed the moment of silence as a time to reflect and viewed chapel as a break to think about greater issues outside of the Peddie bubble.

In the past month, chapel has become something that I still love, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable at times. I do not want to feel this way in chapel, and I also do not want to attack anyone for enjoying the new structure or Rev. Johnson for implementing it. I do want to regain my excitement and enjoyment for chapel, and to ensure that I, and my fellow students, do not feel uncomfortable during this time. All members of our community should view chapel as a safe and enjoyable space for all people, regardless of their beliefs.

I love Peddie, and I understand that the school is in transition. The school I pulled into when I moved into Masters’ South is not the same exact school I now attend as a junior; not bad or worse, but different. Change is inevitable. I hope that we can grow and embrace the changes together; as teachers, staff, and students we must work together to ensure that each member is comfortable and enjoys the amazing opportunity of attending Peddie.